Straight Hedge! Noel Gardner Reviews Punk & HC For October

Your guide to the best in brand new punk and hardcore returns, with Noel Gardner picking out ten top-tier ragers from the likes of Lathe Of Heaven, Abism, Stigmatism, Mock Execution, Gender Is The Bastard and more. Homepage photo: Stress Positions, photo by Ricardo Adame,

This month’s ten chosen ragers are predominantly big city babies, with US and UK hegemony stomping its horrid hobnailed boot, but within those restraints there’s still a decent amount of internationalism and intersection. We start in New York City and Lathe Of Heaven, whose four members collectively have solid deathrock and spikeypunk cred – most of them played in the slashing Pawns; vocalist Gage Allison also steps out in Porvenir Oscuro, whose 2021 album was a studded-up assmover – and have applied atmospheric polish for their debut album on Sacred Bones, Bound By Naked Skies.

Lathe Of Heaven have two basic modes: ‘faster’, as on ‘Ekpyrosis’ and ‘Genome’, where drummer Stephen Reader doesn’t use his cymbals much and the band’s anarcho tastes (think The Mob) are bluntly telegraphed; and ‘slower’, as on ‘Moon-Driven Sea’ and ‘Heralds Of The Circuit-Born’, where the synthesisers and drum machines are wheeled out, Allison’s voice takes on an almost cut-glass quality and the band end up somewhere near the Bunnymen or, more contemporaneously, Chain Of Flowers. Of the LP’s two main studio hands, Ben Greenberg seemingly takes credit for Bound By Naked Skies’ fancy dan elements, but the initial recording by Sasha Stroud preserved the quartet’s essential punk fortitude, filtered into an aura of gothic majesty.

The lineup of Abism, whose eponymous debut LP arrives via Toxic State Records, is a jumble of old(er)heads from the present-day NYC hardcore scene and slightly newer blow-ins, with Eugene Terry and Ben Trogdon backing up frontwoman Virginia Zwangzer. Another band of hers, the US-Chilean duo Garrapata, remains one of the most mental-sounding things I’ve reviewed in this column, and if Abism is by that measure a fairly conventional 18 minutes of wavey pogo, by most other measures it’s a glowing cauldron of ultrapunk truculence.

‘Trabajar’, the 42-second song which opens proceedings, is blisteringly fast and something of a red herring in that respect: Abism can also stretch out and convey doomy drama, with ‘No Veo El Sol’ rocking something like a motorik beat and a hammer-blow riff that comes and goes with clockwork regularity. ‘Libertad’, which follows it, is sludgy and quasi-psychedelic, not a mile from Orden Mundial, and the guitar solos seem to take more inspiration from rockabilly and surf music than punk qua punk, although I suppose at this point there’s been so much genre DNA exchanged that it makes little sense trying to demarcate these things.

Cue Stigmatism’s Ignorance In Power, hardcore for the hardcore influenced by hardcore and for fans of hardcore. That’s yer lot sunshine, and much like being boldly informed that this, an 11-minute recording, is in fact a long-playing album, the prospective listener can either shape up or shit out. Co-released by Toxic State and Static Shock, Stigmatism are two New York dwellers and frontman Spoiler (Montreal via Belgium); Sasha Stroud also recorded this one and guitarist Jesse Lipper does another band, Anti-Machine, with Carla Wolff from Porvenir Oscuro. NYC is actually pretty small, you see.

“You’re a victim that howls through the pain,” Spoiler yaks on ‘Bow In Restraints’ – at 82 seconds, the record’s longest song – and you can probably take that as a loving nod to Agnostic Front and their downtown NYHC peers from before half of ‘em got mid-80s metal poisoning. The vocalist could do a fine job in a crossover thrash band if asked, I’m sure, but instead he and his two bandmates turn on the burners 13 times in a row and come correct with the thumb-numbing bass intros and slower, groovier mosh parts. As much as the overall vibe points to a very specific era and location, Ignorance In Power’s intensity had me thinking of Texan greats The Offenders more than a few times.

Chicago’s Mock Execution have been doing the rounds for about five years and have just released their second 7-inch EP, Circle Of Madness (La Vida Es En Mus). When I say they have sanitised their sound somewhat over time, I appreciate that in this game that might sound like a pejorative and will add context. Reality Attack, their 2019 debut, was an absolute racket with structure, where it existed, buried under layers of fallen noisepunk masonry. These days, they’ve got all this proper musician shit like headnod basslines and air-guitarable solos. How conventional! But also, handily, good.

Received wisdom about Mock Execution tends to peg ‘em as an imprecise conglomerate of Finnish, Swedish and Japanese hardcore classics, and that’s most evident here on ‘Defiant Pose’. Then there’s all this wacko phaser guitar that enters Ron Asheton country at times (the second half of ‘Media Junkies’), streetpunk chug with garagey guitar breaks (‘Space Invaders’, whose lyrics advocate for the permanent deportation from Earth of E. Musk and J. Bezos) and a title track that comes off a bit like a bunch of teenagers trying to cover Slayer way before being up to the task. I guess that, from a certain perspective, you could describe quite a lot of hardcore like that: either way it’s 100 per cent my jam.

The last ever Static Shock Weekend, last month, was nonstop heat for four days and I feel frankly privileged to have even spectated at it. Mock Execution started their set five minutes after arriving, on account of transport issues, and were bang on it considering. Also very good that afternoon, and playing live for the first time, were Spanish diasporans Lame, whose seven-song debut recording Dejad Que Vengan (La Vida Es Un Mus) has duly followed.

Lame’s collective CV is decently sprawling, with two of their four members having crossed this column’s radar recently-ish – Bernat Mundial as part of Barrera, Ramon Babot in Yfory – and vocalist Sally Maclennane, which I assume is a Pogues reference and not her actual surname, can also be found playing bass in budget-rockin’ Londoners Morreadoras. On Dejad…, this sounds like the part she was born to play, waxing narked on matters of death, disgust and decolonisation with a delivery that sometimes practically pauses to scoff at… all this, I suppose. Lame’s take on hardcore is midpaced overall, ‘Matanza’ maybe its upper extreme of tempo; ‘L.S.D.’ has a palpable swing about it and ‘No Hay Paraíso’ triangulates anarcho/deathrock/Wipers like a more blown-out Poison Ruïn. LVEUM call this “an instantaneous and fleeting project” but on the strength of these 11 minutes I could well go for, oh, 12 more.

Walang Hiya by Stress Positions, another Chicago hardcore band, came out on cassette about a year ago, courtesy of the Richter Scale label in the UK. I had it longlisted for inclusion in Straight Hedge and frankly don’t recall why it got bumped out, but Iron Lung have just stuck its six songs on 12-inch vinyl (a few months ahead of their debut album dropping via Three One G) so let’s do this now.

Stress Positions’ instrumental section is the same band as C.H.E.W., whose Feeding Frenzy LP also came out on Iron Lung, with Stephanie Brooks taking over on the mic. Brooks is an unknown entity to me, but if this is her first band she has truly hit the ground running with this EP, and a rasping bellow you could use to steam off wallpaper. The title, and the corresponding song’s lyrics – about repressive abortion laws in the Philippines – speak to her half-Filipino heritage, and ‘Failed State’ and ‘This Land’ have similar levels of ill feeling towards those at the top table. Musically speaking, Walang Hiya is well recorded without being overly ‘pro’, rendered extra thick by a Jack Control mastering and generally flash-fast outside of its first and last songs, ‘Interloper’ and ‘Unholy Intent’. “If I wanted your opinion,” ventures Brooks on the first of those, over some doomy guitar heavy as a felled oak, “I WOULD ASK!” Yeah, this record really speaks to me.

Northeastern English tape label Panurus released two albums by hypergrind duo Trauma Bond in 2022 – both brilliant, and critiqued accordingly by me. A brand new release, by T-800, brings the imprint back to my nest. T-800 are another two-person grindcore unit, though a bit more old-skool in approach: dual screech/belch vox and something of a death metal undercurrent (the title ‘Formless Void’ is very ‘cosmic DM’, not that there’s much else cosmic about this); ‘By Design’ bounds along at a crust’n’roll canter and I get a nagging Dropdead feel even without specific songs necessarily bearing that comparison.

T-800 enlist pals and swell to a four-piece for live shows (I think that’s the plan, at any rate – they’re yet to play live), while on this recording, we get Alex Pearson on vocals and Joel Harries playing and producing everything. Pearson is in another duo, noiserocky Leedsians Belk; Harries’ résumé extends quite a way from this column’s scope, shall we say, including the cinematic post-hardcore of 72% and Lichen Slow, his ambient rock duo (gah!) with Malcolm Middleton from Arab Strap. In the one Lichen Slow publicity photo I saw, Middleton is wearing a sick Prong Primitive Origins shirt and is also a self-professed Napalm Death head, so should have a crack at doing something like T-800 in this reporter’s opinion.

Speaking of this column’s stylistic limits, here’s something dancing on the edges of those edges with impunity. It’s an album of grinding queer jazz noise inspired by Sabbatic magic, by a band? person? entity? called Gender Is The Bastard. Don’t have the foggiest idea of the personnel on this, though GITB is from Liverpool and there have been live shows, but the rancid blare of Formulae Of The Zeroth Cell (Eggy Tapes) has cleaned my clock big time.

You may have picked up on this project’s name being a riff on that of inimitable powerviolence black sheep Man Is The Bastard, invocation of whom is rarely unwelcome, but does lead you to worry that GITB will be little more than a frivolous one-joke gambit. Not so! Formulae…’s screeching feedbacker electronics, free-blasting drum work, unhinged vocals and saxophone as robust and nonlinear as a dry stone wall, with its track lengths ranging from 23 seconds to seven minutes, perhaps has more obvious ancestry in John Zorn’s two notorious ‘extreme music’ projects, Naked City and Painkiller, than MITB per se (exception: the saxless industrial sludge deluge ‘Sigillun Azoetia’). This does all mean, as with plenty of thematic noise, that the queerness and the magick isn’t audible as such, but I’ve no reason to think Gender Is The Bastard are using it as window dressing, and nor should you, who I’m recommending this cassette to.

Two archive collections to finish off this month: I won’t call them reissues as that implies something that you might have heard before. Although, if you were bumping Austin’s Blue Dolphin during the year they existed (2016, apparently) go ahead and pull rank on me! Certainly the band’s members were doing other things I liked at the time – Candice Metrailer sang in Patsy; Barry Elkanick and Cody Phifer were respectively part of Institute and shortlived egg punk project CCTV – but the music on the three tapes they plus vocalist Sarah Sissy made as Blue Dolphin were nigh on unpeggable in regard to scene or style, so no wonder they didn’t get talked up.

Robert’s Lafitte, an LP compiling all 25 minutes of music they recorded, has just been jointly released by Cleta Patra, from Minneapolis, and Dean Spunt’s Post Present Medium. Its tonal shifts and overall production aesthetic is legitimately bizarre, many songs riddled with wow and flutter or background noise leaching into a song like battery acid; Blue Dolphin can rock out, after a fashion, coming on like a Meat Puppets live bootleg circa 1983 on the countrif(r)ied ‘Licking & Kissing’ and ‘Cowboy In The Sky’, early Rough Trade impulsiveness and crude playground-chant punk with ‘Ida’ and ‘Buying Time’. ‘Virginal Mystery’, one of four songs the group didn’t get round to releasing until now, would’ve graced a thousand unplayed crush mixtapes three decades ago, with its needling Sterling Morrison guitar and Thinking Fellers Union wrong-twang. Listen to it on my Straight Hedge mix instead and know it’s all love.

Skam’s No Name LP enters the world thanks to Drag City records, and for a label with no particular commitment to punk obscurity-fishing they’ve trawled pretty heavily here. As far as I know, the band – from Virginia, but as close to Washington DC as makes any difference – never even dubbed these recordings onto cassette during their fleeting early-80s existence, and if the 2020 discography LP by their peers United Mutation arrived after years of punk pleading, I’ve a hunch this one is a bit more of a dice-roll. Fair play to Drag City, as it’s got goodies!

A plausible factor in No Name coming together is their bassist Jack Anderson, who promptly turned up in No Trend – a band given the box set treatment by this label, also in 2020. If No Trend’s slow, taunting proto-noiserock was a tangible backlash to DC hardcore’s near-uniform hyperspeed, Skam – despite proclaiming a love of the early Dischord catalogue, and dipping into knucklehead HC on ‘Capital Punishment’ – most often sound like a hark back to the suburban punk of the late 70s, with hard rock and powerpop leanings bubbling perpetually under. ‘Organized Religion’ tips a giant wink to the similarly titled PiL song, and ‘Search And Destroy’ is, well, a Stooges cover, which I guess may not have been ten a penny 40 years ago. Black Market Baby, another DC band who cast a large shadow over local hardcore despite never playing it, are a decent marker for the tip Skam were on here: their sound is unfocused, but hits plenty of targets nevertheless.

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